This week in our morning watch and time with the Lord we come to the Lord’s epistle to the church in Sardis in Rev. 3:1-6 (the church living in name but dead before God); this church prefigures the Protestant church from the time of the Reformation to the second coming of Christ.
The situation in the church in Thyatira – a church that both existed in time and space and who prefigures the Roman Catholic church, the apostate church – is dark and terrible, and it has a lasting effect.
The influence of the Catholic church is large and extended over a long period of time; from the sixth century for nearly one thousand years there was a dark age, because the Catholic church withheld the word of God, and God’s people were kept from knowing God directly.
For one thousand years the Lord’s seekers were kept in bondage in the Catholic church, and if they wanted to go to God they had to go through a mediatorial class; there was no light of the truth but darkness everywhere.
However, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, God raised up Martin Luther, who was a monk in the Catholic church and later a professor in university, and He enlightened him concerning the just living by faith.
Martin Luther was enlightened by God, and he considered the fallacy of the Catholic church and their dogma; he rose up, wrote the 95 thesis, and nailed them to the door of the university chapel, challenging the whole Catholic church and its system. This was the beginning of what is called, the Reformation, a significant turning point in God’s move in His church.
Martin Luther was persecuted and excommunicated by the Catholic church; he translated the Bible in the German language to allow the common people to read the word of God – previously, it was only a privileged class that could read and interpret the word of God.
Martin Luther brought to us the truth of justification and the open Bible, opening the door for common people to have access to the word of God. This was a starting point of the Lord’s move of recovery on earth.
However, in spite of that wonderful beginning, there were many shortages with Luther’s work, and as a result of the reformation movement, although people were brought to know they are justified by God directly and they could read the Bible by themselves, many state churches (and later private churches) were brought in.
This was the beginning of the Protestant church, which is symbolized by the church in Sardis. Some of the characteristics of the church in Sardis are: deadness (even dying), incomplete in their works, superficiality, and organization.
The Church in Sardis Prefigures the Protestant Church; God’s Reaction is Man’s Recovery
As a sign, the church in Sardis spoken to by the Lord in Rev. 3:1 prefigures the Protestant church, from the time of the Reformation started by Martin Luther to the second coming of Christ.
Whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not, the church that the Lord Jesus started and the apostles spread, shepherded, and taught, this pure church that was the bride of Christ, became degraded to the lowest point – as typified by the church in Thyatira – until it became the Catholic church.
When the church, in her continuous fall, came to the stage of Jezebel, God could no longer tolerate it (Rev. 2:18, 20); the church in Sardis is God’s reaction to Thyatira. Sardis in Greek means “the remains”, “the remainder”, or “the restoration”.
Even though the entire Catholic church is completely apart from the Lord and at the lowest point of degradation, the Lord has a remainder, a remains, a people in it that listened to the Lord’s speaking and were stirred by Him to come out.
The Reformation was God’s reaction to the apostate Roman Catholic Church, and it was accomplished by a minority of the believers, the remainder.
During the apostles’ time there was the problem of the Nicolaitans, then in Pergamos the church was married to the world, and then Jezebel came and the idols were brought into the church; however, the Lord promised to judge Jezebel and kill her followers – this will be fulfilled at the time of Babylon’s fall in Rev. 17.
The church continuously fell from the apostles teaching to the teaching of the Nicolaitans, the teaching of Balaam, and then the teaching of Jezebel, and at one point God could no longer tolerate it. Then Sardis emerged – the church in Sardis is God’s reaction to Thyatira.
With Sardis God had a restoration, a revival, a divine reaction to the low situation in Christianity; whenever the Lord begins a revival work, He is reacting. God’s reaction is man’s recovery. The Catholic system is big, nearly untouchable; yet God raised this young man, Martin Luther, to stand up for the truth.
He challenged the pope and the Catholic church, and with him there was a small number, a remainder, that were part of God’s reaction to the situation then, and God brought in a strategic move through them. How we praise the Lord for doing a work of recovery among us today!
Thank You God for reacting to the low situation in Christianity by raising up Martin Luther to recover justification by faith and translate the Bible for all men to read and know God. Thank You for bringing in a recovery so that many of Your people would return to Your original intention and Your purpose. Lord, keep us in Your recovery, Your reaction to the church’s degradation, until we are fully brought back to the orthodoxy of the church. Hallelujah, our God is a God of recovery!
Being Living and Active in Christ, not “Living in Name” but Dead in God’s Eyes
Apparently the Protestant churches are living, but in the Lord’s eyes, even though they have works and a name to be living, they are dead and dying (Rev. 3:1). Yes, Luther took the lead to challenge the Catholic church and system, and there was a reaction to that situation, but the Lord says to the church in Sardis, “Yet you are dead”.
They were living in name, having activities to go against the evil system, but they didn’t have a life to sustain them – they were dead in God’s eyes. There are thousands of believers who were saved through gospel crusades and revival movements, but after a short time they went to different services and denominations, and most of them were deadened.
Most believers in the Protestant churches are pew members listening to the clergy people performing services, and they don’t function. Many have considered the reformed Protestant church to be living, but the Lord says she is dead; she has lost the vitality of life and is living in name only.
The frequent revivals in the history of the Protestant denominations are a proof that they are dead. There are a lot of revival gatherings, many revivalists, and many believers making sure they attend these meetings to get “revived”; those in the Protestant churches are dead and need resuscitation, so they go to these revival meetings to be resuscitated, and then after a while they die again, so they need another revival meeting….
The situation today is almost like in the days of the Judges in the Old Testament: God’s people leave God and go after idols, then God allows other nations to subdued them and enslave them, so God’s people cry out to Him, He sends them a deliverer (a judge), and they serve God during his lifetime, after which they fail again, and the cycle continues.
The history of the Protestant churches is a history of revival after revival; they need a stirring and a resuscitation, which will not last. This should not be our situation; we should not wait to go to a conference or a training to be “revived”, then wait for another big event for this!
We surely do not want to be in the condition of the church in Sardis. We want to be living and active in gospel preaching, in nourishing the new ones, in perfecting the saints, and in prophesying to build up the Body of Christ. We need the new ones in the church life. We need to nourish the new ones until they become remaining fruit in the church life. Then we should speak in the meetings, to set up a pattern for all the young ones to follow. Children learn how to speak from their parents. The church must be like this. Then from generation to generation all the young ones will grow and be perfected to do the work of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers (Eph. 4:11-12). This will make the church very living, active, functioning, and working according to the Lord’s desire. (Witness Lee, The Overcomers, pp. 50-51)
The Lord had mercy on us to bring us into His recovery, and we have and practiced the God-ordained way to serve and to meet, as revealed in the Bible; but what about our daily living and our meeting life – are we merely living in name, but dead before the Lord?
Are we full of sensitivity and consciousness when we come to meet with the saints, or are we like a dead leaf carried in the stream, with no way of reaction?
Do we have a fresh song, a prayer, or a word when we get together, or do we just go through the motions as we meet? Do we have our own agenda of the “local church meeting”, being dead inside, or are we full of the vitality of life, being living in the eyes of the Lord?
We need to be living and active in preaching the gospel to beget new believers, in nourishing the new ones to help them know the Lord and grow in life, in perfecting the saints so that they would develop their spiritual capacity and function, and in prophesying to build up the church as the Body of Christ.
We should not have a system or a formula but a way of life, a life before the Lord in which we are living, enjoying the Lord, praying, and full of the vitality of the divine life.
We need to be more burdened to beget new believers, nourish the new ones, teach the saints, and build up the church through our prophesying, with the goal that the church as the Body of Christ is built up.
Lord Jesus, save us from being merely living in name yet dead before You! Save us from merely going through the motions as we meet with the saints, and save us from losing the vitality of life, being living in name only. We love You, Lord, and we want to be living and full of life by touching You, enjoying You, and preaching the gospel, nourishing believers, perfecting the saints, and prophesying to build up the church. Recover us from deadness and keep us in the living organic union with You, doing everything in You and by You so that we may be Your living testimony on earth today.
References and Hymns on this Topic
- Inspiration: the Word of God, my enjoyment in the ministry, the message by brother James L. for this week, and portions from, Truth Lessons—Level Four, vol. 1, pp. 173-174 (by Witness Lee), as quoted in the Holy Word for Morning Revival on, Returning to the Orthodoxy of the Church (2016 fall ITERO), msg. 6 (week 6), The Church in Sardis.
- Hymns on this topic:
# And then from Sardis, we can know / Life is the way that we must go! / She says she’s living, but she’s dead; / She needs to touch the Lord instead. / Lord, take us all the way to life / To overcome the deadness rife. / Away from deadness we would flee / That full of life we’ll always be. (Hymns #1274)
# We must ever preach the gospel, / Thus our friends and neighbors gain; / House to house with vital partners, / That our new ones will remain. / We must ever preach the gospel, / Cherishing and nourishing; / Loving them as our dear children, / As our priestly offering. (Song on Preaching the Gospel)
# We’re walking in newness of life / And singing a joyful new song; / In newness of spirit we serve, / This new one accord makes us strong. / We’re drinking the new life divine, / Oh, how this new wine our heart cheers! / The new man will walk this new way / Until the new city appears. (Song on living Christ)
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